From The Birmingham News
On the Record: Bill Taylor, President and CEO of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International
Sunday, March 27, 2005
News staff writer
NEW YORK -- The redesigned Mercedes-Benz M-Class made a splash at Detroit's auto show in January. Last week, the M's sister, the all-new, Alabama-made R-Class had a coming-out party of its own in Manhattan.
Watching from the wings was Bill Taylor, the man who runs the automaker's $1 billion factory complex in Vance, which is poised to begin turning out two production models for the first time.
Challenges are nothing new for Taylor, who has been with Mercedes since before the automaker opened its first U.S. plant nearly a decade ago. He was there for the launch of the first M-Class, then oversaw a $600 million expansion that doubled the size of the Alabama factory and made way for the R-Class.
Taylor was savoring the R's debut at the Jacob Javits Convention Center when he sat down to talk with The News. He couldn't relish the moment for long, however, as the boss of a supplier plant called him to discuss an issue that had to be worked out.
Q. How is the test production going for the new M-Class?
A. We are in production trials which will, of course, lead us into the start of real production. WE're doing this on the same linee we're building the M-Class. That's the first tiem we've started putting cars together in the assembly shop that were built separately in body and paint. As far as production it puts extra challenge on us, but we're on schedule . . . .We're slowly, methodically doing our final checks.
Q. Where do the test trials stand today on the R-Class?
A. We're in production trial two, adn we build groups of cars in each production trial. We're in the second generation of production trials, and we will have one more production trial group of cars.
Q. How much of Line Two's capacity will be dedicated to R-Class production?
A. It's driven by the market. This is an interesting topic beyond the product. We've incorporated a lot of flexibility in our manufacturing. If you look at our plant, it's really two plants. There is one body shop, but in essence there is really two body shops because half of it is R-Class and half of it is M-Class. Then you have two separate paint shops and two separate assembly areas. We did it that way so we can move our product around and respond to swings in demand. We do look at the market and the competition out there.
We think our plant is what I would call a model of plants of the future because we have the ability to build smaller-, larger-, medium-sized volume of any one of our cars when we find out what the market demand i. That's an ideal situation.
Q. Have you been following the early orders of the new M-Class?
A. Oh, yeah. They're strong, and the indications are they're getting stronger, so tI think we will be busy with the M-Class. Now we will get some reading on the R-Class, which from my perspective is going to be a very, very, very popular car.
From teh factory we talk about flexibility, and that's what people want in a car. It's a car I've driven myself a lot and despite its size, its very nimble. I like the flexibility, I like the height. That flexibility, I believe, is going to serve us very well.
Q. Some of the first people to see the new R-Class work on the assembly line in Vance. What's their reaction been?
A. They love it. They love the styling. It's so sleek looking, but it's so rich with the interior and the componenets. Our team members love it. They're excited because we're busy todya, and they know we're going to be busy in the future. We need to satisfy our customers. We need to be proud of every single product we produce in our plant because it's our reputation -- it's the reputation of our team members, the state, all of us.
Q. Has there ever been a busier time for the plant than today?
A. It's going to get busier. That's a good problem, but it's a challenge, too. We ask a lot of our organization. We stretch our organization. The key to any organization is when people see where they're going, the translate that to what their tasks are, tehn see themselves in that picture. One of the things we work on is to keep taht transparency. The team members understand what it takes to satisfy our customers.
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